After Ros’s out-of-character inquisition, the afternoon passes in relative peace. The boss has asked Welch to initiate checks into the staff at one of the small publishing houses in Seattle and my job is to make an informal visit to see how far I get before I’m asked for ID.
Do I think this has got something to do with the interview Miss Steele had yesterday? Nope. None. Not at all. Well fuck me. A flying fucking pig.
Seattle Independent Publishing is housed in a quiet side street a couple of blocks from Barnes and Noble, which seems apt. There are five-storys to the red-brick building with a metal fire escape on the east and north faces. I stroll past, estimating it would take me between two and three minutes to break into the building. Probably two. I don’t like to boast.
I stroll into reception and when I think the attractive woman on reception might say something to me, I wink at her.
She blinks a couple of times, then smiles, and tosses her long, straitened hair over her shoulders and sits up a bit taller, showing off an impressive cleavage.
I might have been interested once, baby, but I’ve got all the woman I can handle. So thanks, but no thanks.
The only CCTV in the lobby is trained towards the front entrance. There’s nothing else. Once you’ve breached that, you’re home and dry.
There are two dark green leather Chesterfields where visitors can take a load off. They remind me of the boss’s playroom. Yup, I think Grey would feel right at home here: a choice of whipping benches and stark, white prison-style walls. I kinda hope Miss Steele gets the other job she was going for. Not that it would make a difference: the poor kid doesn’t stand a chance either way.
I head through to the open plan offices behind reception and make my way across the ground floor. A few people look up as I wander around, but no-one challenges me. I take the stairs two at a time up to the next floor, but it’s the same story: no name, no pack drill.
It’s a good thing I’m such an upright, morally-aware citizen, otherwise I could have ripped off this joint big time. Hell, I could hire a semi and come back in the night and strip the place of computers. They’re so damned naïve, they’d probably write me a fucking thank you note.
I’m just leaving when a guy with long, red hair and hippie fucking earrings sees me. He frowns.
“Can I help you?”
“Nope. Just leaving.”
He stares after me. The bastard has cold eyes and I recognise his type. Suddenly I’m really glad it isn’t Gail who is going to be working there.
I head back to Grey House. I’ve been gone 90 minutes and the boss hasn’t canned anyone. Maybe he has a heart after all. I review the evidence: Olivia isn’t crying – check; Barney is wandering around with his ass hanging out of his jeans looking chilled – check; Andrea’s blood pressure appears to have returned to below zero – check. And then I see the boss smiling at his computer and I nearly pass out: too fucking weird!
I really miss the pre-Miss Steele-good-ole-bad-ole days… the days when the earth still turned just once in every 24 hours.
The boss says he’ll be leaving in an hour; I’ve just got time to read the prelim reports that Welch has sent through. Nothing much of interest: a couple of members of staff with cautions for smoking dope; one guy who got caught with anabolic steroids; couple of DUIs. But then something catches my attention: one of the senior editors has had five different assistants in the last 18 months. Why? I click open the personnel file and I instantly recognise the fucker: cold blue eyes, red hair, hippy-shit earrings… the man who interviewed Miss Steele yesterday; the man who would be Miss Steele’s boss. My spider senses are tingling – and not in a good way.
I wonder what the best way will be to let the boss know – without having the man strung by his balls. Guilty until proven innocent seems to be the boss’s motto when it comes to Miss Steele. Or, now I think about it, any human biped.
“Anything to report, Taylor?”
I can’t help jumping when I hear his voice behind me. I look up and see the fucker is amused. Bastard.
“Building is wide open, sir. Security is for shit – needs a complete overhaul.”
I don’t answer but point to the screen.
He scans through the file on one Jack Hyde and scowls.
People who don’t know the boss think he’s cool, calm and collected. And he can be, but when you know him like I do, you know there’s a barely restrained violence bubbling under the surface. Anything that permeates his carefully controlled world and it’s like waiting for Mount St Helens, part two.
He doesn’t say anything but I know he’s imagining all sorts of violent solutions to sort out the man who could be Miss Steele’s new boss, but he doesn’t say anything.
On the other hand, if Hyde ends up knee-capped in an alley one dark night, my first suspect would be a certain fucked up, billionaire control freak.
“I want to make a stop on the way home, Taylor.”
We head back to his office where he collects his jacket. Olivia swallows and goes pale; the ice maiden gives a chilly smile and the boss’s entourage, yours truly, head down to the elevator.
The Cartier franchise is made up like a tart’s boudoir of green marble and gilt wall sconces. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were king-sized beds in the backroom with slut-red sheets. I nod at the security guy as a professional courtesy. I can see him checking me out to see if I’m carrying. Pu-leeze: this is a custom-made suit – if you can tell I’m packing, I’d have to shoot the guy who made it.
I can see what he’s thinking: You only look after one guy – I have a whole store full of expensive jewellery to look after.
Fucking light weight. Maybe he’d like to try being personal security for billions of dollars worth of a walking, talking, fucking Mount Vesuvius. Or maybe I should just kick his fat ass.
Grey picks out a pair of classy diamond earrings. I’d bet my year’s salary that they’re for a certain wanna-be publishing assistant, currently vacationing in Savannah.
For the briefest of moments I feel regret that there’s nothing in here that I could afford to buy Gail. This store is for the seriously wealthy. But would I want all the shit that goes with it? No. I can walk away from this game at any time; Grey can’t.
He seems to relax slightly as we head home. He pulls out his cell and I’m really hoping he’s not going to call Miss Steele: I hate to blush and drive.
“Elena, hi… yes, good thanks… What? No… are you free for dinner tonight? …Eight? Good. I’ll pick you up… what? …French… Ok.”
I groan inwardly. How fucking dumb can you get?! His girlfriend is out of town less than 24 hours and the first thing he does is arrange to hook up with De Sade’s second cousin. I really hope Miss Steele doesn’t find out about this because if she does, she’ll kick the boss’s sorry ass out of state – in a quiet, non-violent sort of way. And, frankly, he’ll fucking deserve it. I admit I may not be one of those New Men that Gail tells me she’s read about in magazines at the hair salon – Neanderthal seems to be one of her favorite adjectives when it comes to me, I have no fucking idea why – but even I’m not dumb enough to do what the boss is doing. And I have a horrible feeling he’ll just go ahead and tell Miss Steele who he’s seeing anyway, because when it comes to reading women’s feelings, the boss is still at the starting gate. Sure, sure, he can make them come like the fucking Orient Express, but he still knows shit about women.
I drop him at the entrance to Escala then go park the SUV.
Gail is in the staff kitchen and something smells really good. I wrap my arms around her and kiss the back of her neck.
“Mmm, you taste good.”
“Jason! I’m cooking!”
“So am I, baby! Warming up nicely.”
She laughs and pulls free. “How was your day?”
I shrug. “Ros wanted to know why the boss was acting so weird.”
“What did you tell her?”
“She was freaking out that it was something to do with the business end of things. I told her he had a girlfriend and let her work out the rest for herself.”
“I bet she was surprised: she’s known him longer than anyone, other than his family.”
Yup. Surprised, shocked, stunned. That about covers it.
Which reminds me… “It’s just you and me tonight, baby; the boss is going out.”
“Oh! There was nothing on the calendar?”
“He’s going out for dinner. With Mrs Lincoln.”
She folds her arms and looks pissed.
Yup. Pretty much the same reaction I had.
“I really thought he had more sense! I just don’t know what he sees in that woman. Well, I just hope Miss Steele doesn’t find out.”
“Baby, he’ll probably just tell her.”
She gapes at me. “Surely not! Why? I mean, if that were you going off to have dinner with your ex- the minute I was out of town and you told me, I’d…” She stops and purses her lips. “Oh! Sometimes I wonder about Mr Grey!”
“You, me and half the western hemisphere, baby.”
I run my hand up her thigh, tugging her skirt so it’s resting next to the tops of her stockings. “Got the whole evening to ourselves, baby. I’m going to make you scream.”
She smiles and runs her hands over my hips and gives my ass a good squeeze. I flex my hips into her so she can feel my growing interest.
“Really, Jason, I don’t think you should make promises you can’t keep.”
“Is that a challenge, Mrs Jones?”
“Of course, Mr Taylor.”
And I really don’t care that I’m so hungry my stomach thinks my throat has been cut, and I really don’t care that the boss is probably still in the building. I sweep Gail over my shoulder and sprint to the bedroom with every intention of showing her who is on top in this relationship. Or maybe we can take turns.
* * * *
The morning starts like any other: too fucking early. Gail is lying with her head on my chest and one arm wrapped around my waist. The sheets are in a tangle around us and I vaguely wonder why we’re lying with our feet pointing towards the headboard.
She stirs softly and I stroke her hair. I love the way it feels at the nape of her neck, all soft and downy. I see one beautiful blue eye blinking up at me.
“Good morning, Jason.”
She stretches and manages to elbow me in the balls.
“Oh, sorry! Oops! Accident.” Then she smiles at me. “Want me to kiss it better?”
“Best offer I’ve had in… er… several hours.”
But then my Blackberry buzzes. It’s the boss. Jeez! It’s 5am! What did his last slave die of?
Gail leans over and throws the cell to me.
“Taylor: I’m flying down to Savannah. Call Stephan. I want to leave before 9am.”
“Yes, sir. How many days are we going for?” Like I can’t fucking guess.
He hangs up and Gail sighs. “Where are you going now?”
“Fucking Georgia. ASAP. Sorry, baby. I’ll have to take a rain check on that… er… idea.”
“Jason, by this point in time I have so many of your rain checks I could start my own weather channel. Go on, off you go. I’d better make breakfast.”
She pushes me out of bed and I head for the shower.
Two hundred minutes later we’re at Sea-Tac. Pretty good going, but not fast enough for the boss who’s acting as jumpy as a short-legged nun at a penguin shoot.
“Stephan, how long till take-off?”
“Oh-nine-thirty-five, Mr Grey. It was the first slot I could get.”
“Oh, for fucks sake!”
Which is the boss’s way of saying, ‘Hey, how ya doin’? Nice weather we’ve been having’.
“ETA eighteen-thirty Eastern Standard Time.”
Stephan is unphazed. He knows the boss didn’t graduate charm school.
The flight attendant is a woman I haven’t seen before: pretty and uh-oh, brunette. She zeroes in on the boss like a bloodhound on the scent of a bacon sandwich.
“This is Natalia, sir. Anything you want, ask her.”
Stephan heads back to the cockpit and Grey frowns at his watch. Yep, looking at it every 30 seconds is really going to make the plane go faster.
“May I get you a coffee, sir? Breakfast?”
“No, thank you,” he mutters.
She looks disappointed but turns to me, a professional smile embossed on her glossy red lips. “For you, sir.”
“Nope. I’m good, thanks.”
She pouts and I have a sudden urge to laugh out loud. Ok, well maybe not: although I may have twitched slightly.
We finally take off. I know I’m gripping the arms of my chair and holding my breath. Logically, I know there is no ground-to-air missile aimed at us, but once was enough. It’s not something I want to repeat in this lifetime or any other.
As soon as we’re airborne the boss pulls out his laptop and starts scrolling through pages of tiny numbers, scowling and muttering to himself. He’s so tense, the atmosphere in the plane drops to a balmy minus-ten.
I try to ignore the boss’s cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof restless irritation and sink back to enjoy the relative calm of re-reading ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. Some of the characters remind me of him.
At noon, Natalia risks crossing the threshold from the plane’s galley and stands in front of Grey, to offer him something for lunch. From the look on her face I’d say she’s put herself the top of the menu.
“May I take your order for lunch, sir?”
Grey glances up and frowns, then scoops up the menu that he’s ignored for the last two-and-a-half hours.
“Chicken salad. Thank you.”
“And for you, sir?”
Ms Plastique 2011 smiles in my direction.
Yes, I am a man of few words.
Grey eats his food mechanically. If anyone asked, I doubt he’d be able to tell them what was on his plate. He keeps glancing at his watch. It’s so fucking irritating, I’m about ready to jump out of the plane myself, just to make the journey faster.
When the plane door finally opens at Hilton Head, Grey is off and running. It’s almost embarrassing, he’s so eager to see little Miss Steele. If Gail is right about her being a virgin… that is, having been a virgin until a few weeks ago, I have to assume that she’s a quick study.
Andrea has booked us into the Mansion Hotel in the historic downtown district and ordered the usual Audi SUV for me to drive. The SatNav is pre-progammed and I have to hand it to the ice-maiden – she has a good eye for detail.
I see the boss checking his Blackberry and I can pretty much guess that it’s not the NY stockmarket that has his undivided attention. He wants to know the latest whereabouts of a certain blue-eyed, brown haired girl from Montesano.
“I won’t need you again tonight, Taylor,” he says. “I’m not going anywhere this evening.”
I must admit that surprises me. We’ve just flown across the continent and now he’s going to… what… wait?! The boss doesn’t do waiting. If I didn’t know better I’d say he was nervous.
And I admit that makes me curious: what happened to make him change his mind and come hot-footing it down to Georgia today when Miss Steele turned him down last Sunday? Well, he had dinner with Mrs Lincoln last night. What did that bitch say to him? I can’t imagine her being pleased that there’s another woman in the boss’s life – and I don’t count the subs; they weren’t part of his emotional life. Not like… yeah, yeah, getting repetitive.
I park up and do a quick sweep of the boss’s suite. The hotel security is above average, which spares me a couple of migraines or two.
I introduce myself to the head of security, one Walter Dubois.
“Welcome to Jo-ja, Mr Taylor. What can I do for you this fine evenin’, suh?”
“Just routine, Mr Dubois. I’m not anticipating any problems while I’m here; no specific security threats. But just to let you know: I don’t want any of your armed staff on Mr Grey’s floor. And the only access on his visitor list is Miss Anastasia Steele, myself and your usual house-keeping staff.”
“And may I ask if you are carrying a firearm, Mr Taylor?”
“Yes, Mr Dubois. Here’s my permit and my card. Any problems, please call me first.”
“Well, that all seems in order, Mr Taylor. Enjoy your visit, sir.”
“Oh, one more thing: I’ve rented a Bugatti Veyron for a few days. It’ll be delivered by the dealership’s own security.”
I watch his eyes bug out at the thought of a $2 million dollar sports car being parked outside his fine establishment. Jeez, I hate to see a grown man drool.
I head out and find a nice, quiet, untouristy place and order some seafood. While I’m waiting for the food to arrive, I call Gail.
“Hey, baby. Miss me yet?”
“Of course, Jason. How was the flight?”
“Is everything ok?”
“Hard to tell. He hasn’t been to see her yet. But he wants to take her soaring in the morning at dawn.”
“Goodness! He’s never done that before! Not even Miss Grey has managed to persuade him to do that – and she is rather tenacious.”
That’s one of the words to describe Miss Grey, but I’m too much of a gentleman to say out loud the others that occur to me.
“I don’t know, Gail, there’s something… off balance about him. I don’t get it.”
“Oh, really, Jason! He’s in love! Of course he’s off balance. That’s what we women do.”
“Fair point, Mrs Jones. But that’s not what I meant. He went to see the Lincoln woman last night, right?”
She’s silent and I can see that she knows where I’m going with this.
“And you think… what… this is her influence in some way?”
“I don’t know what her agenda is, Gail, but that woman is one cold bitch. I just can’t see her telling the boss to come down here and be all hearts and flowers. So what does she want?”
“Well, she does care about Mr Grey…”
Sometimes Gail is just too damn nice!
“Gail, you can’t stand the icy hag any more than I can. Are you seriously telling me she’s got Grey’s best interests in that cold hole she calls a heart?”
Gail is silent for a moment. “No. I don’t think she has Mr Grey’s best interests at heart.”
No. Neither do I.